Thursday, September 29, 2016

Pacific Grove: Monarch butterflies, a lighthouse and more

One of my favorite weekend destinations is the small community of Pacific Grove, located on Monterey Bay. The fall and winter months make the best time to visit. The tourist crowds are gone and the weather remains beautiful. Through the following posts, take a journey to some of the treasured spots there.

-Stephanie Wright Hession

The coast along Pacific Grove

The Gosby House Inn, Pacific Grove

By Stephanie Wright Hession

Sitting in the parlor of this 1887 Victorian bed-and-breakfast in downtown Pacific Grove, with its flickering fire, tapestry settee and classical music playing in the background, one expects Colin Firth in full Mr. Darcy attire to appear in the doorway. OK, wrong century and country, but the genteel nature of the Gosby House Inn, amid a quaint seaside community, evokes such daydreaming.

The Gosby House Inn. Photo by Stephanie Wright Hession

The Gosby House contains 22 rooms, each with a distinct decor. They include the Jim Jim, a petite room with a queen-size bed and an outside entrance and the Carriage House, a separate, two-story building offering superior king guest rooms with a fireplace, large spa tub and a private balcony. 
The Jim Jim Room. Photo courtesy of the Gosby House Inn

We made our way up the inn's main staircase to the Harper Margaret room, spacious, light-filled accommodations. Inside, a comfortable, king-size bed featured a scrolled headboard and lemon-hued, printed bedding. A pair of upholstered, wing back chairs in front of the windows provided an ideal perch to view Lighthouse Avenue and see a slip of the ocean.
The Harper Margaret Room. Photo courtesy of the Gosby House Inn
The lobby is also the breakfast room, where guests serve themselves from a buffet that includes a hot entree such as quiche or blueberry pancakes, fresh fruit, a fresh baked good, juices, coffee and tea. The inn also offers breakfast in bed for an additional fee of $10 per day by advance request. In the afternoon, complimentary carafes of red and white wine are set out next to trays of savory hors d'oeuvres. Guests settle in on the couch, at tables or in the parlor next door.

The pretty garden behind the inn contains flower boxes and beds filled with fuchsias, ivy geraniums and hydrangeas.
The garden at the Gosby House Inn. Photo courtesy of the Gosby House Inn
Pacific Grove is an idyllic and very walkable coastal community with a small-town atmosphere and stunning ocean views. It's dotted with graceful Victorians, pastel-colored cottages, art galleries, restaurants and boutiques.

Nose around the fountains, statuary and adorable gift section of Miss Trawick's Garden Shop, savor the sunset from the Recreation Trail or enjoy tasty American fare at the Red House Cafe or several other wonderful restaurants. Nature lovers will enjoy the monarch butterfly sanctuary and marine life.

The daily breakfast buffet is 8-10 a.m.; the hors d'oeuvres and wine are served from 4:30-6:30 p.m. No smoking, children welcome. There's no private parking but free, overnight street parking is available on side streets next to the inn. Although we slept peacefully, light sleepers should opt for rooms facing the garden since Lighthouse Avenue gets noisy at times. The attentive staff and charming atmosphere make the Gosby House Inn a pleasurable place to stay.

Gosby House Inn, 643 Lighthouse Ave., Pacific Grove. (800) 527-8828, Standard rates $120 to $300; Dogs are welcome to say in a pet friendly room by prior approval and advance reservation. 

Point Pinos Lighthouse holds an intriguing history

By Stephanie Wright Hession

Strolling past windswept trees and approaching the white cottage and tower housing the Point Pinos Lighthouse near the southern entrance of Monterey Bay, you'll find no hint of its dramatic history. But after stepping inside the oldest, continually operating lighthouse on the West Coast—first lit in 1855you'll learn about some of the fascinating women who once called it home.

Charlotte Layton didn't set out to become a pioneering lighthouse keeper but she did so in 1856, after Anastacio Garcia shot and killed her husband Charles. As Point Pinos' first lighthouse keeper he also made up part of a Monterey County sheriff's posse pursuing Garcia. Layton suddenly found herself a widow with four children and no prospects. At the time, grizzly bears roamed the land and the area possessed a Wild West atmosphere. Layton became the first female lighthouse keeper and continued until 1860, when she married her assistant lighthouse keeper, George Harris, and they traded jobs.

Another woman, Emily Fish, the widow of doctor Melancthon W. Fish, took the reins of Point Pinos in 1893. Instead of inheriting the position because of her husband's death, she actually applied for the post, with the assistance of her naval officer son-in-law, who worked for the U.S. Lighthouse Board. Accompanied by her Chinese servant, she brought a sophisticated ambience to Point Pinos, decorating the living quarters with antiques, fine china and silver. Her fondness for entertaining garnered her the nickname the Socialite Keeper.

A self-guided tour of the lighthouse reveals the 19th century parlor containing chairs topped with needlepoint cushions, an ornately carved piano, a fireplace and floral curtains. It's easy to imagine Fish hosting a graceful evening here for guests including artists, writers and naval officers. From 1893 to 1914, she kept meticulous logs, which visitors can view today. One of her most compelling set of entries documents the 1906 earthquake, which damaged the lighthouse tower.

Fish beautified the sandy grounds surrounding the lighthouse by covering the area with topsoil and planting trees, grass and other vegetation. She also ventured into farming and kept an array of animals, from French poodles to Holstein cows. Today, some of the landscaping remains but it's difficult to find traces of the farm.

Back on the tour, the kitchen displays historical exhibits and books. A cellar features stations demonstrating how the light works at Point Pinos and who invented it. Maritime fans will delight in learning the workings of the third-order Fresnel lens, which consists of prisms, lenses and a mechanism. Made in France and shipped around Cape Horn, its beehive arrangements of glass prisms gathers the light and directs it out to the ocean.

Invented by French physicist Augustin-Jean Fresnel, the design allows more light to shine through, enabling ships to see the lighthouse from several miles away. Originally lit by a lantern fueled by whale oil, the light was regularly blocked by a falling weight mechanism that moved a metal shutter around it. It would eclipse the light for 10 seconds and then the light would shine for 20 seconds. By creating this distinct signature, a ship's crew would recognize the location.

Point Pinos Lighthouse offers a wonderful glimpse into 19th century California maritime history. Allow an hour to take the self-guided tour, chat with the docents and browse the books for sale. Outside, settle in on one of two wooden benches and gaze at the expansive vistas of the sea. No need to worry about grizzly bears.

Point Pinos Lighthouse: 80 Asilomar Ave., Pacific Grove. Open 1-4 p.m., Thursday-Monday. $1-$2 donation.

Monarch Grove Sanctuary, Pacific Grove

By Stephanie Wright Hession

On an early fall morning, butterfly enthusiasts arrive at the Monarch Grove Sanctuary in Pacific Grove eager to spy the thousands of black-and-orange creatures wintering at the sanctuary from October through March. They often use high-powered binoculars to see the clusters of monarchs high in the eucalyptus trees, where leaves camouflage the underside of their wings.

A cluster of monarch butterflies. Photo courtesy of the Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History

The seemingly fragile beauties travel more than 2,000 miles to get to Pacific Grove, flying 100 miles per day, at altitudes up to 10,000 feet. They mate in February and in the fall, the fifth generation of these butterflies will return. Although theories abound, no one knows for certain how their descendants find their way back.

Residents of Pacific Grove, a city affectionately known as Butterfly Town, U.S.A., diligently protect them. In 1990, voters approved a $1.2 million bond to purchase 2.7 acres of land, preventing it from being developed and creating the Monarch Grove Sanctuary.

Late morning to early afternoon, once the temperature reaches more than 55 degrees, provides the optimal conditions to see the butterflies. That's when they warm their muscles in the sun and take flight in search of nectar. While at the sanctuary, visitors must follow a butterfly etiquette that includes remaining on the designated paths, being watchful of the ground where monarchs may alight and leaving the butterfly clusters undisturbed.

Monarch Grove Sanctuary: Open dawn to dusk. Ridge Road between Lighthouse Avenue and Short Street, Pacific Grove. Free. (831) 648-5716,

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

“Cynthia Tom: Stories to Tell: Discards & Variances,” opens Friday, Sept. 23 at Gallery Route One, Point Reyes Station

By Stephanie Wright Hession

In the solo exhibition, “Cynthia Tom: Stories to Tell: Discards & Variances,” the Surrealist painter and mixed media artist focuses upon the tragedy of human trafficking through the personal experiences of her Chinese American family. Uncovering the disturbing details of her grandmother, father and mother’s lives spurred Tom to honor them through her work. 

Detail, Hom Shee Mock installation by Cynthia Tom

Featuring Surrealist paintings, found object sculpture and mixed media works placed in a haunting, darkened space, she addresses the issue of human trafficking and abuse prevalent in the San Francisco’s Chinese community before the 1950s and takes a look at the issue, which continues to occur in the San Francisco Bay Area today.

"Heading Home," acrylic on canvas by Cynthia Tom

She reveals secret stories to convey the resiliency of the human spirit, to honor women and to embolden individuals to harness their power to effectively change lives in positive ways. Tom also asks the viewer to ponder how they can help end modern-day slavery.

"If Umbrellas could protect," an installation by Cynthia Tom

Opening events on Sunday, Sept. 25 include an artist talk with Tom and Marto at 2:30 p.m. and an opening reception for all galleries at 3-5 p.m.

Also running concurrently at the Gallery Route One Outer Galleries: “Diana Marto: Golden Room, Canto XXV,” and “T.C. Moore: Reflections.”

Through October 30. Gallery Route One, 11101 Highway One, Suite 101, Point Reyes Station. (415) 663-1347, Hours: 11 a.m.-5 p.m., Wednesday-Monday; Closed Tuesdays.
All images courtesy of Cynthia Tom

Monday, September 19, 2016

Push Up Something Hidden presents “SoMa Now and Then,” a new dance-walking tour choreographed and performed by Joe Landini, November 12-December 4 in S.F.

The Push Up Something Hidden (P.U.S.H) dance company presents “SoMa Now and Then.” A dance performance and walking tour, it's led and performed by artist Joe Landini, who recounts personal stories and uses choreographed movement, to tell of his journey through the SoMa neighborhood and the transition of its queer culture, from when leather ruled to the current tech boom atmosphere.

Conceived and directed by Amy Lewis, the founding artistic director of P.U.S.H., with choreography by Landini, the one-hour dance-walking tour begins at the Eagle Tavern in SoMa.

Artist Joe Landini. Photo by Robbie Sweeny

"SoMa, Now and Then," corresponds with the San Francisco Board of Supervisor's preliminary plans to designate a section of the SoMa neighborhood as a "LGBTQ Social Heritage Special Use District," on Folsom Street between 3rd and 12th streets. It's part of an effort to preserve the history of the area as a base for the city's leather community at a time when iconic gay nightlife venues have closed. 

3 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, November 12 through December 4. Tour begins at Eagle Tavern, 398 12th St., S.F. Tour limited to 25 ticket holders. For mature audiences due to language and imagery. 

Tickets" $20 per person. (800) 838-3006,

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Union Street Inn, Cow Hollow, S.F.: A welcoming and cozy bed and breakfast

Story and photographs by Stephanie Wright Hession

Sitting at a scrolled metal table and sipping Earl Grey tea, I'm admiring a hummingbird darting about a lush garden. Nearby, a brick pathway curves along boxwood hedges, potted daffodils, assorted trees, classic statuary and a tall camellia bush with pink blooms the shade of cotton candy. You may think I'm in the midst of a pastoral estate but I'm actually staying at the Union Street Inn, a gracious bed-and-breakfast in San Francisco's Cow Hollow neighborhood.

The garden at the Union Street Inn
We arrive at the Carriage House, a contemporary cottage, which is separate from the inn's 1904 Edwardian house and situated at the back of the garden. It features a patio with twin chairs, a table set and an arched entryway.

The Carriage House

Inside, sheer white drapes intertwined with an antiqued gold bed crown, a queen-size bed topped with sumptuous linens and sand-colored walls create a dreamy atmosphere. The highlight of the spacious bathroom is the large whirlpool tub. The bathroom also contains a vanity area, a shower and a wooden rack holding a generous supply of fluffy cotton towels. The Carriage House makes guests feel welcome with sumptuous robes, fresh fruit, filtered water and chocolates. It includes a flat-screen television, WiFi and a coffee maker.

The Carriage House and its part of its private garden
On the main floor of the house, classical music plays in the parlor. Guests chat while settled on a sofa and chairs, surrounded by seafaring paintings, a large fireplace, ceramic candelabras, military figurines and a crystal chandelier. Outside, a deck with tables overlooks the lush garden with its seating area, a pineapple-topped fountain, bird feeders and flower beds. The parlor is the main hub of activity. Breakfast happens between 8 and 10 a.m. daily. In the late afternoon, beverages and cheese are put out. Guests have 24-hour access to this room and can help themselves to tea, coffee, hot chocolate and a sweet treat, along with reading celebrity, home decor, garden and travel magazines.

The parlor of the main house.
The inn's atmosphere is unpretentious, thanks to the warm and personable staff. In the morning, we ate a hearty, delicious breakfast, beginning with a cup of fruit and banana nut bread, followed by an egg scramble made with ham, cheese and fresh vegetables accompanied with toast and butter.

The Union Street Inn
Just outside is Union Street, lined with fashionable boutiques, antique shops, art galleries, cafes, restaurants and historic Victorian and Edwardian structures. Dining options include Rose's Cafe (2298 Union St.), which serves up home-style Italian dishes, including all-natural roasted half chicken topped with a dollop of herb butter and accompanied by a side of crunchy, fresh watercress.

Union Street Inn: 2229 Union St., S.F. (415) 346-0424, Five rooms plus the Carriage House, all nonsmoking, no pets, no wheelchair access; children not encouraged. $249-$369. Parking in public garage on Union Street.

Echos of the Beat Generation remain in San Francisco's North Beach

By Stephanie Wright Hession

 In the 1950s, North Beach became a gathering place for the Beat Generation, a group of writers, poets and intellectuals who rejected traditional societal standards and instead, went in search of their own values through personal experimentation and exploration. First meeting in New York, some traveled West including Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg and Neal Cassady, three key figures of this literary movement. Although the Beats are gone, echoes of their time here and their words remain.

To learn more, visit the Beat Museum, a small museum and gift shop housed on two floors. The artifacts and memorabilia here include a copy of Ginsberg’s infamous poem, “Howl,” with edits made by him and a 1949 Hudson car similar to the one that Neal Cassady and Jack Kerouac drove on the journey that served as the basis for Kerouac’s iconic 1957 novel, “On the Road.”

Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Peter D. Martin opened City Lights Bookstore as an independent, politically and socially minded place in 1953. Two years later, Ferlinghetti founded City Lights Publishers with its Pocket Poet Series. In 1956, he published Ginsberg’s “Howl and Other Poems,” which stirred tremendous controversy. Today, its independent spirit continues and the selection includes books on poetry, philosophy and the arts.

After visiting City Lights, head to Jack Kerouac Alley, tucked between the bookstore and Vesuvio Cafe. Embedded in the walkway, a partial quote from Kerouac’s novel “On the Road” reads: “The air was soft, the stars so fine, the promise of every cobbled alley so great...” The tiny alley also contains quotes from Ferlinghetti, John Steinbeck, Confucius and Li Po. From here, you can also join the two-hour, North Beach Underground walking tour at 2 p.m., Wednesday and Sunday. Led by guides from Walk SF Tours, it takes visitors to the spots where members of the Beat Generation spent their time writing, drinking and living. It also covers other intriguing, historical aspects of the neighborhood.
Or pop into the Vesuvio Cafe, sit at the bar and have a drink in honor of the Beats, who used to frequent this Bohemian-style spot. It all started when Neal Cassady stopped by in 1955 on his way to attend a poetry reading at the Six Gallery. Jack Kerouac and other Beat writers followed.

If you go:

The Beat Museum, 540 Broadway, S.F. Open 10 a.m.-7 p.m., daily. $5-$8. (415) 399-9626,

City Lights Booksellers and Publishers, 261 Columbus Ave., S.F. (415) 362-8193,

WalkSF Tours, North Beach Underground tour, 2 p.m., Wednesday and Saturday. Recommended for 16 years and old due to some adult content. $25 (includes admission to the Beat Museum). (415) 779-5879,

Vesuvio Cafe, 255 Columbus Ave., S.F. (415) 362-3370,

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Union Square Fall Art Walk, S.F., Saturday, September 17

Stop by and see the latest exhibitions at an array of art galleries during the Union Square Fall Art Walk, 1-5 p.m., Saturday, September 17. Enjoy an afternoon of opening receptions, nibbles, libations and treats. Free and open to the public.

The galleries participating in this event include:

At 251 Post St., S.F.

Peter Anton’s “Candy Dandy” solo exhibition, opening reception 3-5 p.m. at the Scott Richards Contemporary Art, 251 Post St., Suite 410, S.F. (415) 788-5588,

“Ravishing Assortment,” (2016), mixed media, by Peter Anton. Image courtesy of the Scott Richards Contemporary Art gallery.

The Meyerovich Gallery presents videos from 1-4 p.m. that focus upon two exhibitions from the 57th Venice Biennale, “Alefbet,” and “An Archaeologist’s Collection,” which feature paintings and sculptures by Russian artist Grisha Bruskin. 251 Post St., Suite 400, S.F. (415) 421-7171,

“Black Demon (Angel),” (1993), enamel on steel, by Grisha Bruskin. Image courtesy of the Meyerovich Gallery

A special exhibition, “Mexican Masters featuring the work of Diego Rivera,” at the Bond Latin Gallery, 251 Post St. Suite 610, S.F. (415) 362-1480,

“Cantina,” (1937), watercolor, gouache and ink on paper, by Diego Rivera. Image courtesy of the Bond Latin Gallery.

The Dolby Chadwick Gallery presents “Picturesque,” a solo exhibition of charcoal drawings by Gonzalo Fuenmayor. Stop by 2-5 p.m. for a glass of champagne while viewing these new works. 210 Post St., Suite 205, S.F. (415) 845-3560,

“A Botanical Coincidence,” (2016), charcoal on paper, by Gonzalo Fuenmayor. Image courtesy of the Dolby Chadwick gallery.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

The Transcendence Theatre Company, Broadway under the Stars, “Gala Celebration,” 7:30 p.m., Friday, September 9-Sunday, September 11.

The Transcendence Theatre Company wraps up its season of Broadway under the Stars with the “Gala Celebration,” 7:30 p.m., Friday, September 9-Sunday, September 11. Featuring performances, community tributes and more, the event also acts as a fundraiser for future seasons with a raffle, silent auction, etc.

Beginning at 5 p.m. before each show, enjoy a picnic on the Great Lawn with tasty fare available by The Girl & the Fig, Tips Tri-Tip, Cynfully Delicious, Subconscious Coffee and Cookie...Take a Bite! 

Local vintners include the Benziger Family Winery (signature wine sponsor), Chateau St. Jean (premiere wine sponsor), sparkling sponsors including the Buena Vista Winery and pouring partners including St. Anne’s Crossing Winery and Sbragia Family Vineyards. They’ll also be live music performances by Roem Baur (Friday); Dan Martin (Saturday) and the Townlounge Band (Sunday).

Photos courtesy of The Transcendence Theatre Company

5 p.m.-7:30 p.m.-pre-show picnicking, live music, food and wine. Showtime: 7:30 p.m., September 9-11. Tickets for each day: $42 general admission; $79 premium seating and $134 VIP includes the KZST “Bubble Lounge”

Onstage at the Winery Ruins, Jack London State Historic Park, 2400 London Ranch Road, Glen Ellen. Box office: (877) 424-1414,